TITLE: Senior VP, National Ad Sales, Scripps Networks Interactive
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Spearheaded growth of Food Network, helped launch Cooking Channel, senior VP of marketing and communications for Turner Broadcasting Sales
QUOTE: “No one ever put a boundary in front of me and said, ‘This is your world, you’re ad sales.’ My ideas were always welcome.”
— Karen Grinthal
Karen Grinthal made a huge leap of faith nearly 19 years ago when she left a job at an established cable-programming giant to work for a fledgling programmer called Food Network.
At the time, Grinthal said that she held a prestigious position, as a senior vice president of marketing and communications at Turner Broadcasting Sales, where she had been for eight years. But she was looking for a smaller venue where she could make a real difference, a place that had the entrepreneurial spirit of a startup. Food Network fit the bill, although the career move raised eyebrows among her peers.
“I took a job that nobody could understand, because I went from being [a senior vice president] to being a sales manager, from a multi-hundred-million-dollar responsibility to a brand that had no revenue and no ratings,” said Grinthal, now senior vice president of national ad sales for Scripps Networks Interactive.
“It’s very tempting to go for the title, go for the most money, go for whatever will give you the most prestige,” she said. “And so basically, it was a question of making a decision to totally relinquish prestige and go for what I felt in my gut would make sense for me.”
TURNING FOOD INTO A POWERHOUSE
Her gamble paid off. This year Grinthal will celebrate almost two decades at Food Network. During her tenure, Food Network has evolved from a network with less than $15 million in ad revenue to one with more than $700 million in national ad billings.
The channel made celebrities of chefs — such as Mario Batali, Bobby Flay, Rachael Ray and Giada De Laurentiis — and turned food into a pop-culture programming genre.
“We have a star-making machine,” said Grinthal, who is credited with being smart, creative, passionate and ever-calm.
She pioneered innovative ways to integrate advertisers into Food Network programming, a change in strategy. And sponsors are offered cross-platform opportunities across TV, digital and print, via Food Network Magazine.
“I don’t know of any other ad sales executive who has meant more to a channel’s growth and success than what Karen Grinthal has meant to Food Network,” Jon Steinlauf, president of ad sales and marketing for Scripps Networks Interactive said, noting her tenure at Food began even before Scripps bought the network from Belo in 1997. “Karen’s passion, dedication, loyalty and tenure to a single TV network are unsurpassed in the annals of cable. She has literally built our ad sales business from its humble beginnings into a power brand in the ad market.”
Steinlauf said he has worked with Grinthal “side by side” for 24 years, first at Turner and then at Scripps. A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, Grinthal joined Turner in 1988 as an account executive and rose through the ranks to become a senior vice president of ad sales for its entertainment division. She began her career as a media planner at Doyle Dane Bernbach and then spent several years in radio sales.
BUILDING THE RECIPE FOR COOKING CHANNEL
Grinthal’s career achievements aren’t limited to Food Network. She was also instrumental in the successful 2010 relaunch of Fine Living as the Cooking Channel, a flanker brand to Food Network. Steinlauf credited Grinthal with being part of a core Scripps management team, adding that her input is sought not only on advertising but programming and company strategy, such as Cooking Channel’s creation, as well.
“We sat in a room and strategized about what it could be, and from the day that we strategized about it until we put it on the air as a full-blown network was six months,” Grinthal said. “Quite amazing.”
Her long tenure at Scripps is also an amazing feat in the TV industry. Grinthal said she and her ad-sales team — where there is little turnover — don’t get stale at the company because of the constant demand to adapt to the changing media landscape.
“The biggest challenge has been the constant reinvention and refreshment of what the brand means to advertisers,” she said.
For example, for years Food Network had a policy of zero product integration in its programming. Grinthal said she walked away from “advertisers waving money in our faces” rather than risk tarnishing the brand in its early days. Now Food Network is doing innovative partnerships and brand integrations using the filter of whether it makes sense for the advertiser and the network, and whether it makes a show better, according to Grinthal.
LANDING PRODUCT PARTNERSHIPS
One of the greatest partnerships that Food Network ever did was about eight years ago with Red Lobster, engineered by Grinthal, according to Steinlauf. During an episode of Food Network Star, contestants competed in a challenge to create a seafood dish that would be served at Red Lobster restaurants across the country as a special the very next day. The winning recipe for white chocolate tilapia was on the menu.
Back then, Karen Chester was at Red Lobster and worked with Grinthal on that product integration, which she deemed a success. Chester is now vice president of media services for Bloomin’ Brands, whose restaurants include Outback Steakhouse. That chain’s projects with Food Network have included its executive chef serving as a judge on Chopped, Chester said.
Grinthal’s willingness to be open to new ideas, and come up with ideas, “makes it a partnership that works year after year, not one and done,” with Outback enjoying “a halo effect” through its alignment with Food Network, Chester said.
The network’s explosive success has given Grinthal great satisfaction.
“It has grown exponentially from a little tiny thing to a culture-changing icon,” she said. “So that’s one element of what’s kept me here.”